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David Aldridge

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Whether LeBron James stays or goes will shape the rest of the summer's free agency moves.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Odds are LeBron's next move will direct summer spending


Posted May 17 2010 12:44AM

Throughout history, there have come individuals who controlled the lives and fortunes of thousands, even millions, of people, through their words and deeds.

There was Robert Moses, for example, the city planner and mass transit designer without whose approval nothing was built in New York for 40 years. And Johnny Carson, who took the uneven landscape of late-night television and created his own colossus, dominating the medium for three decades and making a personal and company fortune for himself and NBC.

There was Henry Ford, who built cars, and Julius Caesar, who built empires.

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David Yonggi Cho, a South Korean minister, leads a congregation with more than 800,000 followers. On any given weekday, Rush Limbaugh reaches an estimated 20 million or so listeners.

In this hall of movers and shakers, LeBron James would fit in. Especially after midnight on July 1.

For at that time, James will begin to shape the fate of the NBA for the next 10 years or so. The league has never had a confluence like it's going to have this summer: superstar players looking for more money or new homes (or both), Hall of Fame coaches who will be either free contractually or otherwise easily available, and eight to 10 teams with the financial means and willingness to spend on both players and coaches.

And James is the maestro. Until he moves his baton, the band cannot play.

Until James decides whether he's going to stick around for the long haul in Cleveland or leave town, until he decides the players he wants to be surrounded with for the next six to eight seasons, until he decides what coach can get the most out of him and that he'll listen to, everyone else has to wait.

Everyone wants James, or Dwyane Wade, but are they willing to pay the freight for both? Are they willing to shell out big bucks for a coach in an era when teams are fighting to get coaching salaries back under control? Will current big spenders like Utah and San Antonio be able to survive this kind of arms race?

After the Cavaliers' collapse last week against the Celtics, no one knows what James wants. He made no dramatic proclamations or predictions in his postgame news conference, and said he would be forming his plan with his advisors and friends over the next few weeks -- leaving a vacuum that the unending news cycle will have to fill with endless speculation.

Will he take another short, three-year deal, as he did in 2007, to keep the pressure on whatever team he's on to continue improving the roster? Or will he strike while the iron is hot, knowing that the rules for everyone -- even super-duper stars -- are likely to change dramatically with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2011?

One thing I do know: James will use the criticism he's getting for his subpar performances after Game 3 of the Boston series as fuel that will ultimately bring him a championship. They called Earvin Johnson "Tragic" Johnson after the 1984 Finals, when the Lakers went belly-up against Boston in seven games. After six seasons without a ring or a Finals appearance, Michael Jordan supposedly couldn't win the big one. Kobe would never win another ring without Shaq; Shaq would never win another ring without Kobe. Both predictions were wrong.

James was bad against Boston last week. But that doesn't define him; it will likely wake him up and help him realize that he has to be even more ruthless and hard-hearted if he's going to be the leader his team needs. The Cavs were great in January and February against inferior regular season competition, dancing and joking and laughing, but came unglued when playing a real team that plays real defense. The team looked to James for leadership, and for whatever reason, he couldn't provide it.

Here's a prediction: that will never happen again.

I have no idea what's most important to James, other than the oft-cited desire to win. Max money will follow him wherever he goes; he's not going to sign for the mid-level exception. (It's how these guys keep score with one another.) So, his choices would seem to be much more limited than would appear. Yet this is a once-a-generation player, and any number of teams are going to try and find creative ways to acquire him.

Since it's Triple Crown season, let's send the teams off with my current odds of who will win the James Sweepstakes (and if you're interested, here are the actual odds that came out of Vegas at the end of last week):

CHICAGO BULLS (6-1)

HOW TO GET THERE: Sign as free agent
POTENTIAL PROBLEM(S):: None

The Bulls traded John Salmons to the Bucks at the deadline to clear enough room to make a run at one superstar free agent. Most of us assumed they'd go after Miami's Wade, a Chicago native who'd form an impossible-to-guard backcourt with Derrick Rose. But the scuttlebutt in the immediate aftermath of Cleveland's loss to Boston was that Chicago would turn its resources toward James, who could sign a five-year, $96 million deal with the Bulls -- an estimated "max deal" based on current projections of a $56.1 million cap next season.

With seven years' playing service, under the terms of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement James can receive up to 30 percent of a team's cap space, but every player's maximum raise is 105 percent of his previous salary in a new contract -- a detail that cap guru Larry Coon had to remind me of Friday. (Seriously, without Coon, nobody who covers the league would know what they were talking about when it comes to the CBA.)

That means James's maximum first-year salary in a new contract would be $16,568,907.60 -- rounded up to $16,568,908. If he did a straight sign with the Bulls, the longest he could sign for is five years, with annual raises of eight percent. Or, he could agree to a sign-and-trade deal, with Cleveland technically re-signing him -- for six years and $125.5 million, as the Cavaliers can add another year to the deal, with annual increases of 10.5 percent instead of eight percent -- and then trading him to Chicago for players and draft picks. Under this scenario, Cleveland could send James and, say, Delonte West, to Chicago for forward Luol Deng, guard Kirk Hinrich and the rights to the Bulls' first-round pick. (By going the sign-and-trade route and, in essence, trading Deng's salary for James', Chicago would preserve its existing cap space and be able to add another big-time free agent.)

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Derrick Rose (right) and Joakim Noah would make great running mates with LeBron James.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

James saw first-hand how electric Rose is in the first round of the playoffs -- the great combination of quickness and strength, the leadership skills, the desire to compete and the ability to deliver. The one thing Rose doesn't want to be is noticed. He doesn't seek the spotlight; James is drawn to it. Rose is a shy superstar, like John Stockton, and that was one of the reasons Stockton and Karl Malone worked so well in Salt Lake City. Malone loved drawing publicity for his trucking business, or his latest wrestling endeavor; Stockton was virulently allergic to any media. Neither Rose nor Joakim Noah would have any problem ceding attention to James's Alpha personality.

Having James drawing double-teams on a regular basis would make Rose that much more lethal a finisher on the weak side. Having James around to get in the passing lanes would make Noah that much more effective in transition. Having James' ability to draw and kick would give Hinrich -- if he's still around -- the kind of wide-open perimeter looks that helped John Paxson and Steve Kerr win titles with the Bulls and get the management jobs they currently possess.

James would certainly have his pick of coaches, too, and even if Jackson said earlier this month that he'd coach in L.A. next season or not at all, it doesn't preclude Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf from asking about the coach that helped bring six titles his way. Someone who knows Jackson very, very well noted on Friday that while Jackson made that L.A. or bust statement, he later amended that to a "90 percent" chance. Meaning: he'll listen if Cleveland or any other team that has James' signature on the dotted line comes calling.

Reinsdorf would, of course, have to overcome his aversion to paying coaches at or above the going rate, not a small matter among his fellow owners. I was told the Wizards, for example, caught an earful from other teams at a Board of Governors meeting last year after giving Flip Saunders his $20 million contract.

And while endorsements will follow James anywhere he goes, or if he stays in Cleveland, I would point out that during the Bulls' heyday in the early 1990s, Scottie Pippen made $10 million a year alone in local endorsements. Chicago tends to take care of its own, and there would be business opportunities galore for James' LRMR Marketing company in Chicago. And it's no secret that James enjoys himself when he's in the Windy City.

Plus, James is changing his jersey number from 23 to 6 next season. He said it was to honor Dr. J, but could it be he knows a certain jersey number isn't ... available ... in a certain city? Just askin'.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (4-1)

HOW TO GET THERE: Re-sign for six years, $125 million, the maximum allowed
POTENTIAL PROBLEM(S):: The last seven days

Two weeks ago, James was awash in the love-fest in his native Akron, with a crowd of 3,000 locals cheering his every utterance as he received his second straight MVP. There was genuine warmth in his eyes as he saw old friends and teammates. No one can argue that his love for his hometown isn't genuine.

And that's the best thing the Cavaliers have going for them now.

If it's just about basketball, Cleveland's chances to keep the city's most iconic player since Jim Brown would be in grave danger. The Celtics series exposed the Cavaliers in the most painful way possible. It wasn't just that Boston took advantage of matchups; Boston was tougher, meaner and more determined.

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LeBron's love of all things Northeast Ohio gives the Cavs a distinct free-agency edge.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

So what can Cleveland do? GM Danny Ferry has changed the roster four straight years; at some point, the Cavaliers have to be good enough to win as constructed. With Antawn Jamison ($13.3 million), Mo Williams ($9 million), Anderson Varejao ($7 million) and Daniel Gibson ($4 million) already on the books both this season and next, Cleveland isn't going to be a major player in free agency, even if Shaquille O'Neal doesn't come back. If Shaq doesn't return, Cleveland is the exact same spot it was last season, looking for somebody that can neutralize Dwight Howard.

But Cleveland can pay James the most money if he signs for six years -- unless he demands a sign-and-trade deal, which would be difficult, but not impossible, to pull off. By all accounts James has a good relationship with owner Dan Gilbert and with Ferry; his family and friends are comfortable and well-taken care of, and not subject to the daily scrutiny that would certainly accompany them if James were to move the operation to New York or L.A. That's a bigger factor than most people think.

How, though, can you bring this group back next year, with James sleepwalking through a Game 5 blowout for whatever reason, and players not happy with coach Mike Brown? These are the horns of the dilemma in which the Cavs find themselves, and why James will certainly have to take a good, long look at leaving -- unless Ferry can create Chris Bosh or a similar stud out of the pieces he has in place. Failing that, there's just one card left for Gilbert to play -- giving James carte blanche to select the next coach, and then moving heaven and earth to get that person to Ohio. Phil Jackson? Pat Riley? Larry Brown? Ken Reeves?

The Cavs have done everything they could to surround James with enough talent to win a title. For five years, it hasn't worked. They can only hope now that their good intentions, and the pull that Northeast Ohio has on one of its favorite sons, is still strong enough to carry the day.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: (40-1)

HOW TO GET THERE: Sign as free agent
POTENTIAL PROBLEM(S): Donald J. Sterling

If it's just a question of going to the team with the most talent via free agency, the Clippers win hands down. They have last year's top overall pick, Blake Griffin, hopefully healthy after missing his rookie season with a knee injury. They have an All-Star center, Chris Kaman. They have a great young guard in Eric Gordon, whose only shortcoming is that he plays for the Clippers. They have some really good role players (Rasual Butler, Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw). And they have a veteran point guard in Baron Davis who, when motivated, can still be as good as anybody.

James would certainly hand-pick the coach in L.A., and if you believe what you hear, the Clippers would hire John Calipari in a Hollywood minute if it meant the Big Akron was committed as well.

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Off-the-court issues could make a LeBron-Clippers pairing nothing more than a dream.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Yes, the Clips are a poor second at the moment to the Lakers. Have they ever had a player as dynamic as James to build their season ticket sales around, to build their franchise around? Seriously, the last player as good as James that wore their colors didn't even wear their colors; it was Bob McAdoo, who starred for the Buffalo Braves before the franchise moved West in 1979. No question that James would quickly bring more buzz to Staples on Clippers nights than, say, Billy Crystal does.

But there's a reason the Clippers haven't been able to attract or retain many star players over the years -- the dysfunction presided over by Sterling -- who, in keeping with his history, is now refusing to pay former coach Mike Dunleavy after firing him. Sterling's kooky thoughts and meddling haven't changed, and now, other than acting GM Neil Olshey, there's nobody around to challenge his impulses.The team points to the commitment Sterling made by building a $50 million state-of-the-art practice facility a couple of years ago, but no one wants to be the first Marine on the ground. I just can't imagine James is willing to trust the meat of his career to a man with Sterling's track record, on and off the court.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (25-1)

HOW TO GET THERE: Sign and trade
POTENTIAL PROBLEM(S):: Finding a masochist general manager

Even though Jerry Buss is willing to pay luxury tax for a while to produce a winner, his tolerance for red ink is not indefinite. So any trade for James and what would be a nine-figure salary alongside Kobe Bryant's new $84 million extension would almost certainly have to include jettisoning one or two big salaries elsewhere -- and that would likely mean a third team would have to get involved with L.A. and Cleveland to absorb one of those contracts.

Not known for their risk-taking on a regular basis, who among the league's executives would risk incurring the wrath of his brethren--like poor Chris Wallace, the Grizzlies' GM who has been excoriated for two years after trading Pau Gasol to the Lakers and tipping the balance in the Western Conference--by stepping into the breach? (The coda, that the deal turned out pretty good for Memphis, too, and sped up its rebuilding program by years by bringing legit big man Marc Gasol from L.A. to Memphis, rarely gets mentioned.)

And make no mistake; linking James and Bryant would assure Laker dominance for close to another decade. It would almost be unfair asking teams to try and come up with some kind of defense that could deny James driving room, yet be able to keep Bryant from his favorite spots on the floor, and also be able to keep a body on the likes of Gasol or Andrew Bynum (one of them would have to go back to Cleveland, obviously). With James around, Bryant could pace himself through the regular season and be full go for the postseason. James would easily add a couple of seasons at the end of Bryant's career.

If the Left Coast is where James really wants to land, he and the Lakers would ultimately force Cleveland's hand to make the best deal possible. But the Cavs would probably hold out as long as possible and dare James to sign for the mid-level exception.

MIAMI HEAT (8-1)

HOW TO GET THERE: Sign as free agent
POTENTIAL PROBLEM(S):: Going back to Square One

When James came into the league in 2003, the Cavs had a promising young power forward they hoped would play alongside him for a decade -- Carlos Boozer. Seven years later, Boozer's available again, one of a half-dozen possible teammates for James in Miami if Riles has his way. Currently, the Heat can sign one max player and almost a second, but would have to move disappointing Michael Beasley elsewhere to create enough room for two max free agents alongside Wade.

If Miami can make room for two -- which would be James and a big like Boozer, Bosh or Amar'e Stoudemire -- Wade would likely stay as well and the Heat would be in business. But would Wade stick around, even for James, if there's not another superstar coming along for the ride? Wade would obviously be the best teammate James has had in the pros (having had the likes of Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Mo Williams and now, Antawn Jamison as second bananas), but would two greats and a bunch of goods beat Orlando four times in seven? Or the Lakers? Or the Suns or Mavericks or Nuggets or Spurs?

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If they teamed up in Miami, would Dwyane Wade or LeBron James shy from the spotlight to win?
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

It might, but isn't the point of James' leaving Cleveland to go somewhere where his odds of winning a championship increase? Not to mention the fact that in the NBA, as much as these guys talk about wanting to win, it's hard to imagine either James or Wade submitting himself to the will of the other -- to being that second banana. There isn't much evidence of it working any other way in the NBA.

Also uncertain is whether Riley would come downstairs from his team president perch a second time, just as he did in 2006, and assume coaching duties from Erik Spoelstra, who's done a pretty good job the last two seasons. Riley made it clear last week that if a free-agent-to-be made it clear he would play for Riley alone, he'd consider coming back to the bench.

(For what it's worth, former Bull and Knick Charles Oakley -- who is not in James' inner circle but is close with Michael Jordan, who James does consult with -- said last week that James would definitely leave Cleveland and sign with either Chicago or Miami. Idle speculation? Inside info? Your guess is as good as his.)

But James did have a great time in China on the Olympic team last year, playing with Wade and Boozer and Bosh, and all of them have indicated they'll be in contact with one another well before July 1 to compare notes and thoughts. For all his coaching successes, Riley has never been an Olympic coach or been in the rotation for a future gig; who knows if he blew the selection committee off years ago or if they were never interested in him? The irony is that the positive experience of the Five Rings for James could get Riley a Dream Team of his very own.

NEW JERSEY NETS (25-1)

HOW TO GET THERE: Sign as free agent
POTENTIAL PROBLEM(S):: It isn't 2012

If the Nets were moving into their revenue-enhancing Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season, and John Wall was entering his third season in the league, new owner Mikhail Prokhorov could make a simple pitch to James: everything is in place. We have a great new building with 10,000 season tickets sold (did I mention we'll be hosting All-Star Weekend in 2014?), we have a superstar guard, we have an All-Star center in Brook Lopez. I've made my new owner mistakes and I know what I'm doing now. Our coach, John Calipari, has his plan and personnel in place. You're the missing piece. Come to New York, go to 40/40 with Hova after evey game, take over the city and take us to the Finals this year.

But that's not quite the picture Prokhorov can paint now. After Tuesday, maybe the Nets, with the best chance of winning the Lottery, come up with the first pick and commit to Wall, the talented Kentucky freshman. But maybe they don't; the history since the weighted system began in 1990, only four of the 20 teams that have entered the Lottery with the most chances at the number one pick actually secured the Golden Ticket. There's actually a better chance the Nets could be staring DeMarcus Cousins in the face at three or four instead of Wall at one.

So even if New Jersey agreed to "Calipari II--The Sequel," that's probably not good enough to convince James to come to Jersey. Though there's no telling how charming and persuasive the 6-foot-8, thrill-seeking Prokhorov can be in person. I can only imagine where the sales pitch wll be -- the South of France, a dacha outside of Moscow, Mandela's house -- but it will likely be dazzling. And if Tha Shawn Carter is going to be as hands on in the pursuit of his good friend LBJ on as he claimed last week, it would be foolish to count the Nets, who can offer a max deal, out.

NEW YORK KNICKS (20-1)

HOW TO GET THERE: Sign as free agent
POTENTIAL PROBLEM(S):: You play with five, not two

This is the great thing about New York: what is considered bush league in any other city is showing moxie and toughness in the Five Boroughs. Can you imagine if there was a great New York player who was entering free agency, and mayors from other cities were begging that player to come play for them? And papers in those cities wrote fawning, gooey editorials begging the great man to pretty please come to town? And, um, adult entertainment venues were making promises that would besmirch the reputation of those cities? (You'll have to read about that elsewhere. Just Google it. It won't take long.)

But that's SOP in New York, a city we love, and a town whose NBA team is the only one in the league right now that can sign James and a second max player right now, no questions asked, no cap machinations or sign-and-trades needed. Donnie Walsh bet the farm that he could clear enough cap room by the trade deadline last February to make such a thing possible, and he did. Now, the question is whether Walsh can convince James to convince someone else to come to the Apple with him.

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David Lee's future in New York could very well shape any shot at LeBron James.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Mike D'Antoni's system is fine -- but like others, great players make it look better than it is on its own. And Steve Nash isn't walking through that door any time soon.

The Knicks' pitch will be...what? The glitz of Broadway? Does LBJ strike you as the taking-in-a-matinee-on-Saturday type? Nightlife? He can fly anywhere he wants on any non-game night. Money? He's already makes kajillions living in Cleveland. Great young players? Other than the promise that Danilo Gallinari could be a third option on a good team, they don't have another rock to turn over. If they sign two max players they'll lose their most promising big man, David Lee. But if they want to keep Lee, they can't sign two max players (only one), and that wouldn't be enough enticement for the one. There are no more players to trade.

And he's made a movie already, Spike.

This is the problem when your franchise hasn't been relevant for a long, long time -- since James was 15 or so. The tradition and fan base and everything you could show to a prospective player isn't in their recent memory, and as we all know, getting our kids to crack open a book to bone up on history is next to impossible. The Knicks don't have a great building. They don't have a great roster. They don't have a great future.

But it's still New York. So there's still a chance.

ORLANDO MAGIC (50-1)

HOW TO GET THERE: Sign and trade
POTENTIAL PROBLEM(S):: Finding a trade that makes sense for both teams

Hard to see the Magic being interested, even in James, if it involves dealing Jameer Nelson, as it almost certainly would, in a package that would also have to include Marcin Gortat or Brandon Bass and, probably, swingman Mickael Pietrus. That would leave Orlando where the Cavs are now, looking for consistent point guard play in the postseason.

One would guess Cleveland would similarly have no interest in dealing James for Rashard Lewis's gargantuan contract, or an aging Vince Carter and fill-ins. But if the two sides somehow made a deal, and James was with Dwight Howard for the next decade, well, game over. You could pencil Orlando in for five or six titles, minimum. (Of course, James could sign with the Magic for around $33 million by taking Orlando's trade exception, and the Magic wouldn't have to deal anyone to Cleveland. Keep dreaming.)

Dribbles

As often happens, an alert fan gets all the credit.

Debbie Leaper sent this e-mail to me on Feb. 22:

...I'm wondering if you can answer a question I can't find an answer to. Where the heck is Steve Javie? I've not seen him referee games in months. Yes, I have the NBA ticket so I watch/peruse games regularly. And since I've been a fan since 9 years old (I'm a 53 y.o. female), I know/notice a few things. I appreciate your response. You probably know off the top of your head. Me, I probably missed that particular ESPN/TNT broadcast.

Actually, Debbie, I had no idea, either. As it turned out, after checking box scores throughout the month of January, it turned out you were exactly correct. Where the heck was Steve Javie -- who has, at 55, established himself as one of the best, if not the best, officials in the league?

Though fans never seemed to get over Javie's early years, when by his own admission he was a bit of a hothead (yes, he did work a game when Hoops, the Washington Bullets' mascot, was asked to leave a 1991 game, but Javie didn't throw Hoops out, which few people have gotten right over the years -- I know because I was the Bullets' beat writer at the time -- and Javie explains what really happened below), most coaches and GMs would acknowledge that Javie was now at the top of the game.

But ever since early December, Javie has not worked a game. And he may never work an NBA game again.

Javie's right knee is just about out of cartilage. Three days a week, he's rehabbing near his Philadelphia-area home, trying to coax a couple more years of running up and down the court out of it. But it's not getting any better. And if there isn't any improvement by the summer, the 24-year veteran who's done 18 Finals games and 190 playoff games will call it a career.

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A knee injury could mean the end of Steve Javie's lengthy career as an NBA ref.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

"It's tough," Javie said by telephone Friday; the league, which normally does not allow its referees to do interviews, made an exception, letting Javie talk about the last four-plus months he's spent on the sidelines.

"The regular season's one thing, obviously," Javie said. "With the rigors of the travel, by April, you're kind of, 'oh, my God.' But the playoffs are always that rejuvenation. It is tough. I watched a game like (Thursday) night in Boston, and you see the fans going crazy, and you just wish you were there. You're so used to that. And when Garnett throws that elbow up at Quentin Richardson (in Game 1 of the Celtics-Heat first-round series), you want to be in the mix.

"And that's the juice that we got ... the more intensity, the more times you want to be there. Sometimes it can be hard to watch because you wish you were there, but other times you just sit there and take it all in. I think you kind of appreciate it more when you don't have it there."

Several other veteran referees -- Mark Wunderlich (microfracture surgery), Joe Forte, Violet Palmer and Olandis Poole -- are out of the playoffs as well. But Javie's absence is the most obvious. He and Joe Crawford, his mentor, are at the top of the ref list, along with Finals veterans Danny Crawford, Ken Mauer and Joe DeRosa.

Javie's knee has been bothering him for the last few years; he's had it scoped a couple of times. The last two years, he's gotten it drained two times and gotten coritzone shots to get him through the postseason.

"Toward the end of last year, in the playoffs, it really started bothering me," he said. "I really couldn't wait until the end of the playoffs just to give it some rest. And I did give it rest at the end of the playoffs. But then when I started to work out again, it wasn't as good as it had been in the past, getting ready for this season. And it only took a couple of weeks before it really blew up again. Not only was it swelling up a lot, the pain was there too, where it was tough just getting off the elevator and getting to my hotel room."

An MRI determined that, like many players who've spent years running on hardwood, Javie's knee was almost bone on bone, in arthritic condition. He saw specialists in Philadelphia and New York. He looked into cartilage replacement from cadavers, but that would mean eight to 10 months of rehab, and Javie is only going to do this for another year or two even if he gets back on the court next year.

"There really isn't much they can do," he said. "There's nothing you can do arthroscopically, of course, because there's nothing to scope. And a couple of people suggested replacements of some sort. But once you have a replacement, whether it be partial or even a full one, they don't recommend running on it to the rigors of our job. So if I ever got a replacement it would be like the end of the road for me."

He's walking now, but the real test will come next month, when Javie will start running again, using an unloader knee brace that is designed to help keep the bones in the knee from rubbing against one another, which lessens the pain. The plan is to go every other day and see if the knee holds up. He wants to inform the league by mid-summer one way or another, so it can plan to replace him if he has to hang up his whistle.

During his rehab, Javie has maintained contact with the Philly Wing of the referee fraternity -- Crawford, Wunderlich, Ed Malloy and Mike Callahan.

"Joey's great," Javie said. "I think Joe is more devastated by this injury than I am. We joke about it, but it's like, 'Joe, can I do anything to make you feel better?' I try to console him instead of him consoling me. But it's the guys reaching out, either texting or calling, just asking how you're doing and so on. It means a lot."

Sitting in the bar, or on the 19th hole, or in his living room like the rest of us, Javie hasn't missed a call in four months. But watching on TV only amplifies what referees always say: it's all about the angles. The referee on the court doesn't have a look straight down into the basket via a camera placed on top of the backboard to determine whether there was offensive basket interference; they don't have five monitors of replays to look at over and over again. Nor do they have the benefit of time.

"My dad never criticized another official," Javie said. "He just said, 'you didn't have the angle this guy had.' He's making a judgment from the angle he has on the court. And that's what makes it so challenging. I'm not complaining about it. That's what gets us going, the fact that it's such a challenging job, and we're under such scrutiny, and I know sometimes we don't like the scrutiny. But that leads to even more of a challenge, to be as perfect, or as good as you can get every night."

That march toward perfection has sometimes left Javie walking things back. He's had celebrated run-ins with Pat Riley, and Allen Iverson, among others, over the years. (You ref for 24 years, you're going to have a few dustups.) The most infamous was early in his career, five years into his NBA job (he'd started as a baseball umpire after a nascent career as a pitcher stalled in the minors, then shifted to basketball, working his way up through the CBA). In April, 1991, Javie was working a Washington-Portland game at the old Capital Centre in the fourth quarter with officials Don Vaden and Bill Spooner when, as then-Blazers coach Rick Adelman said afterward, "all hell broke loose."

As Javie allows now, "I don't think we (the three referees) had 10 years between us."

It started when Bullets guard Darrell Walker argued a non-call in the fourth quarter, screaming at Javie -- who threw him out with one technical. Soon after, Washington center Pervis Ellison caught the ball as it was coming out of the basket after a Portland field goal and tossed it toward Spooner. Hard. Spooner had no reaction, but Javie came crosscourt and tossed Ellison. That brought Washington coach Wes Unseld onto the court; Javie T'd him up twice and ran him, making four techincals and three ejections in the span of one minute, 14 seconds.

Here's where Hoops came in. The Bullets called timeout, and during the break, Hoops, the team's mascot during its Bullets days, spent that time gesturing to the crowd, egging it on to rain abuse down upon the officials -- which it gladly did.

"Donnie Vaden called me over and said 'Steve, the mascot's making fun of us behind your back,' " Javie said. "It was late in the fourth quarter. And I walked over to Dolph (Sand, the Wizards' game-night host) and I said 'Dolph, can you do me a favor' -- I'm grabbing a drink of water -- I said 'can you just make sure that the mascot doesn't come on the floor any more tonight?' Just like that. It wasn't like I threw him ... and all of a sudden, Dolph's getting security, saying 'he's outta here, get him out,' and I'm looking at it going 'holy (bleep), what the hell is happening now?'

"It went from I'm trying to be as subtle as I can to now, I threw him out. I'll never forget what Joey said. He said 'you know what, Steve? This might be the best thing that ever happened to you. These players think you're crazy now.'

"The next night, Reggie Miller, in the warmup line, looks at me and said 'a mascot?' I just shrugged my shoulders and said 'what can you do?' "

The son of an NFL back judge -- Stan Javie, who worked 29 years and made four Super Bowls, working Super Bowl XIV in 1980 in his next-to-last season -- Steve Javie would like to go out while it's still his decision, like his dad.

"The league still wanted him to go another couple of years," Steve Javie says. "I think he was always thinking more about his ability to officiate, that he would lose it in a couple of years. He wanted to go out while he still could officiate. We all know how it is. You see it: 'he stayed too long,' and 'when are you going to get rid of him?' I think if you have any kind of pride in yourself, in your job, you don't want people talking that way about you at the end, that you're just lingering on just to collect a paycheck."

If this is the end for Javie, he would like to stay affiliated with the NBA in some capacity, but wherever he winds up, he hopes it's a place where he can help train younger officials, just as Jack Madden and Jake O'Donnell and Darrel Garretson and Crawford did for him when his career was getting started. And he hopes his valedictory as a referee is a simple one.

"I guess the main thing, and Joey's the one that instilled this in me, and my father instilled it in me, too, was the fact that when I walked on the court in a big game, that both coaches looked at me, and the players, and said 'we have a fair shake tonight,' " Javie said. "That's the key. I'm not there to be liked. Sometimes, that's the problem. As a human being, we all want to be liked. But I'd rather be known as the official that went out there, and everybody out there said 'I have nothing to worry about. I'm getting a fair shake whether home or away. Let's just play the game.' "

Top O' the World, Ma!

(Second round/conference finals playoff edition)

1) Boston (3-0): Biggest turnaround in public perception in Beantown since the Big Dig ended. Doesn't hurt that the Bruins went off a cliff, either.

2) Phoenix (DNP-sweep): Having Robin Lopez back will be huge against the Lakers, but the Suns need Stoudemire to play as big against Los Angeles as he did against San Antonio.

3) L.A. Lakers (1-0): Red flag to a repeat: Bynum says his knee got worse during a week when Lakers didn't play.

4) Orlando (1-1): Cavs fell to pieces when they faced adversity against Boston. Let's see if the Magic is a little tougher mentally after getting slapped around Sunday.

5) Utah (0-1): Gone Fishin', but the Jazz have a lot of different directions they can go in this summer. I wouldn't worry about Utah as long as Kevin O'Connor and Jerry Sloan are still in charge.

6) Cleveland (0-2): Gone Fishin', and who knows what this franchise will look like on opening night next fall?

7) Atlanta (0-1): Gone Fishin', and looking for a new coach.

8) San Antonio: Gone Fishin', and committed to one more year of paying luxury tax, so Spurs can be as active in trades as they want to be this offseason.

9) Chicago: Gone Fishin', but the Bulls move up on LeBron Speculation.

10) Oklahoma City: Gone Fishin'.

11) Denver: Gone Fishin', but George Karl tells the Denver Post he's hopeful he'll be back on the bench next season.

12) Portland: Gone Fishin'.

13) Dallas: Gone Fishin'.

14) Milwaukee: Gone Fishin'.

15) Charlotte: Gone Fishin'.

16) Miami: Gone Fishin', but drops a spot as Chicago becomes a primary opponent for James.

Team of the Week

(Second round/conference finals playoff edition)

Celtics (3-0): Masterful in their planning, astonishing in their execution against Cleveland, and that effort and intensity carried over to Sunday's Game 1 win in Orlando. Every teams knows how it wants to defend James; make him a jump shooter, build a wall, blah, blah, blah. It's a little harder to carry out when he's in front of you with the ball. But Boston pulled it off, with Kevin Garnett seemingly everywhere. Boston's old heads beat the Cavaliers to just about every loose ball, and Rajon Rondo controlled the series. Sunday was more of the same -- great defense on the ball, great help, great rotations -- against the Magic, as Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace played outstanding low-post defense against Dwight Howard.

Team of the Weak

Cavaliers (0-2): The light and heat of the playoffs is searing, but illuminating. Antawn Jamison had a target on his back all series, attacked by Garnett, Wallace, Glen Davis and anyone else the Cavs tried to hide him on defensively. Mo Williams got off the deck in Game 6 but lost a lopsided decision to Rajon Rondo. J.J. Hickson piled up DNPs; Anderson Varejao was MIA. Mike Brown's adjustments were way too late. LeBron? Who knows? It's telling that the most consistent Cleveland player -- not the best, but the one whose performances didn't fluctuate wildly -- in the series was 38-year-old Shaq, who's been in a postseason game or two (hundred and fourteen). Nobody died when the Cavs lost, but an entire city is paralyzed.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

How tough is it when you're not a Lottery pick?

We all know that Tuesday will determine the order of the top 14 picks in next month's Draft. For those players, their lives should be set; they'll make millions of dollars and have the chance to make millions more if they play to their perceived capabilities. But there are a couple hundred seniors and underclassmen who are Draft-eligible, and there are only 60 slots available. With most teams starting their workout schedules this week, the next month and a half will be a blur for the vast majority of college players that are hoping to catch one team's eye.

"I really had trouble sleeping last night," University of Maryland forward Landon Milbourne said last week, after his first workout for the Wizards. Milbourne was one of six players Washington brought to Verizon Center for a two-plus hour workout; like most teams, the Wizards brought in a couple of guards, a couple of wing players and a couple of big men so that each would have someone to work against.

Milbourne has long odds to be drafted by an NBA team. He's making the transition to being a perimeter player again after he played inside for Maryland the past two years. His Terrapins teammate, guard Greivis Vasquez, the ACC's Player of the Year, is likely to be drafted, as is his training partner, Louisville forward Samardo Samuels. But Milbourne, like so many others, has had the NBA dream since he first started playing, more than a decade ago. It's hard to give up.

"In the locker room, I just couldn't keep still," Milbourne said. "I just kept going to the bathroom, trying to stretch, whatever. Just trying to do something. I couldn't stay still. It was a pretty good experience and I'm glad I got this one under my belt. I went to sleep at like 2 and I woke up at like 5:30. I didn't really get that much sleep. Hopefully it didn't affect my play. But I was really excited."

Learning a new position, or mastering an old one, is one way that borderline guys can show teams they're versatile enough to take a second look.

"Just being able to show teams that I am an NBA point guard," said Donald Sloan, a first-team All-Big 12 selection from Texas A&M who had to play most of this past season at shooting guard when the Aggies started running out of bodies. Most mock drafts don't have Sloan being selected, but he is determined to prove them wrong.

draft300.jpg
Texas A&M guard Donald Sloan is trying to prove to NBA brass he's a capable floor general.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

"I can run a team," Sloan said. "I can run sets. I can do this. That's pretty much the only thing that I really think that I'm coming into these workouts to do. They know everything else that I can do, finishing, creating ... you get in situations where you're playing three-on-three, and you have to make good decisions. I think that's pretty much what they look at. Then you have things like Portsmouth (Invitational Tournament) that they go and look at. You have all these different drills and techniques they kind of critique you at, to see if you're pretty much an NBA visionary point guard. I felt pretty good about those things. I think I did pretty well."

Many of the pre-Draft tournaments and workouts favor guards, because they handle the ball so much, and because there's just more good guards than there are bigs. Sloan took advantage with a strong performance at the PIT, where his team took the championship.

"I'm meeting with all these agents," Sloan said, "and they're like 'you're under the radar. Teams know what you can do. They think you're a second-round guy and you can do this to help yourself, but you're really going to have to play well at Portsmouth.' I really didn't want to have to go to Portsmouth. But at the same time I wanted to go just to prove it to everybody. Getting there and seeing all the high-caliber college players that were there, I was like, 'if I get in here and stink it up, that's it. I might as well just go sit down.' But the first game I played with a lot of confidence. And I had a great team. Those guys really bought into winning three games."

The highest prospect at the Washington workout was probably South Florida junior guard Dominique Jones, currently projected as a late first or early second-round pick (the Wizards have the last pick in the first round from the Antawn Jamison trade and the fourth pick, 34th overall, in the second round). Jones bulled his way onto the NBA radar with a couple of huge Big East games, scoring 47 against Providence and 29 at Georgetown in an upset of the Hoyas. He finished second in the conference in scoring (21.4 per game) and got the Bulls close to the NCAA Tournament.

"People look at me as a scorer," he said. "I'm going to bring a team more than just scoring. Coming from the one (point guard), getting other guys involved, getting assists, rebounding, playing good defense. I'm going to bring a team more than just being a scorer...people are talking about first-round bubble. Before they was talking about not even being drafted, Europe, things like that. I want to be in the top 15. That's just where my motivation has taken me. I'm always confident and I'm never satisfied."

Jones worked out for the Celtics last week, was going to San Antonio Saturday, to Chicago on Sunday and Indiana on Monday. Such is the life of a non-Lottery prospect. Have itinerary, will travel.

"In the long run, I'm going to be a great player," Jones said. "You're going to look back, 10 or 15 years from now, and be like, 'you know, that Dominique Jones was the steal of the draft.' "

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

In Athens, they say "It's all Latin to me." From Nikolas Melissaris:

...I am reading your articles since 2005 and i think of you as one of the most well-informed columnists. I guess, though, you need to do a bit more searching on Greek basketball. Olympiacos hasn't won a national title since 1997, while its arch rival, Panathinaikos, has won 13 championships in the last 14 years and four European titles during that span. In total, Panathinaikos counts 30 national titles while Olympiacos counts the grand total of ... nine.

My mistake, Nikolas. You are absolutely correct about the dominance of Panthinaikos; I was referring to Olympiacos's appearance this season in the Euro Final Four when I said they were Greece's top club team. I didn't mean historically, though that's obviously how it sounded. My bad for not making that clearer.

Do you remember "The Odd Couple?" From Brian Caughel:

How do you see Ricky Rubio fitting in on the current Minnesota roster (assuming it stays the same)? I think Johnny Flynn could be running the point quite well by then .... will they share the job?

rondo300.jpg
Doesn't Rajon Rondo deserve a little more credit in the playoff MVP race?
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

David Kahn insisted last year that Ricky and Flynn could play together. I doubted it then, and I doubt it now, even though Rubio has improved his jumper this season in Barcelona, and his team went on to win the European Final Four championship. And what if the Wolves get the first pick in Tuesday's Lottery? Can they afford not to take John Wall, even though Evan Turner is going to be a great player and probably a better fit for their team? Still a lot of questions in 10K Lakes.

I also misplaced my wedding ring and the coupons for half-off entrees at TGI Fridays. From Avaas Sharif:

In your playoff MVP watch, I think you forgot to list Rondo. His team is still in the hunt for a ring and he's convincingly leading his team with about 18 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists a game. Those are some solid numbers to be averaging through a series-and-a-half. You should probably put him fourth behind LeBron, Kobe and Dwight. Deron Williams, despite his nastiness, needs to get bumped off cuz clearly hes not getting the W's.

You complain, I react. See below, Avaas.

As always, send your column critiques, draft questions and snark to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If you write it (first and last name, please), and we like it, we just might print it. You've been warned.

Playoffs MVP Watch

(5/10/10-5/16/10)

1) Kobe Bryant (1 game: 32 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, .478 FG, .833 FT): Can only imagine that a week off and the prospect of getting back to the Finals -- plus having to again explain that inexplicable Game 7 performance against Phoenix in '07 -- has made Bryant healthy and ornery. A bad combination for the Suns.

2) Rajon Rondo (3 games: 15 ppg, 3 rpg, 9 apg, .541 FG, .400 FT): Dominant against the Cavs, controlilng the pace and tempo of four of the six games, knowing when to get others involved and when to take over himself. Magic got into him more on Sunday, but he still hit a couple of those back-breaking scoops in the second half.

3) Dwight Howard (2 games: 13 ppg, 10 rpg, 4.5 bpg, .533 FG, .556 FT): A sublime 21 and 13 average in the sweep of the Hawks, which wasn't even really competition. But on Sunday, against Perkins and Wallace, Howard got pushed off his favorite spots and spent too much time complaining to the referees instead of re-setting himself in the post and going to work. He has to play through the contact.

4) LeBron James (2 games: 21 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 8.5 apg, .314 FG, .750 FT): They may write books about exactly what happened to James against the Celtics. And we may never really know. All we do know is that the James that ran roughshod through the regular season and won his second straight MVP award was not present in the crucial Game 5, and couldn't get out of his own way (nine turnovers!) in the decisive Game 6. So now...we all wait.

5) Steve Nash (DNP-sweep): At least the Nasty One's eye is looking a lot better.

Dropped out: Deron Williams

By the Numbers

127 -- Number of regular season games won by the Cavaliers the past two years, tied for the most in NBA history (along with the 2005-07) for a team that failed to win a championship in a two-year period.

29 -- Number of appearances, including this year, that the Lakers have made in the Western Conference finals since moving to Los Angeles in 1960. The longest the franchise has gone since its inception in Minneapolis in 1948 without a conference finals appearance is six years (1992-1998); by contrast, the Celtics have gone as long as 14 years, from 1988 to 2002, between conference finals appearances.

$55,000,000 -- Amount of money, according to a study released last week, that local businesses in Indianapolis would lose if the Pacers left town. The study was commissioned by the county board that owns Conseco Fieldhouse where the team plays; the Pacers are hoping to change the terms of their agreement with the city that calls for them to make an annual $15 million payment. If the existing deal isn't altered, the board has suggested that the team could move.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) I criticized LeBron when he walked off the court last year without congratulating the Magic after the Cavs lost the Eastern finals, and then didn't acknowledge the next day that he made a mistake. And so I give him major props for staying on the floor after losing the series to the Celtics and congratulating player after player. That is the mark of a champion -- not just soaking up the plaudits when you win, but standing tall when you lose. It's hardly a consolation, no doubt, but good for him.

lebron_postgame300.jpg
Give LeBron James credit for atoning for one mistake in last season's playoff ouster.
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

2) Jackie MacMullen, the longtime author and writer for the Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated, has been the gold standard for NBA reporters for 20 years. Joe Tait, the longtime radio voice of the Cavaliers is, without question, the second-biggest star in franchise history. They were named recipients of the Curt Gowdy Media Award last week by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which will be bestowed in August. There are not two more deserving people.

3) Tony Allen had a pretty doggone good series guarding the two-time MVP. Pretty good for a guy that was an afterthought in Doc Rivers's rotation at the start of the season. And pretty good for a guy that's going to be a free agent this summer, with one last chance to cash in before 2011.

4) Somebody needs to get off the dime and thin our analyst ranks at TNT by hiring Doug Collins and Mike Fratello ASAP. You know who they are and you know what they do and you know how much they'll cost. Stop negotiating and make it happen. They're too good to sit on the sidelines another year.

5) Ditto Dwane Casey, who deserves a chance to run a team that has a real chance to win this time. Atlanta would be good. But so would Chicago.

6) Thank you, Law and Order, for a great two-decade run. TV won't be the same without...well, you know.

7) Whenever Gary Smith writes about anything, stop what you're doing for a half hour and read it.

Not Feelin' ...

1) Of all people, I am aware that the demise of the Cavaliers and what it means for LeBron's future is a big, big story. (See above.) But aren't we all blowing this just a wee bit out of proportion? The Celtics' run to the conference finals is a tremendous story in its own right and has barely been mentioned in the last three days; the Suns aren't even on the radar. Somebody needs to save us from ourselves.

2) This was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, I guess.

3) It's not so much that Mike Woodson got fired; six years is a great run these days in the NBA, and the Hawks were awful against Orlando. It's that his job security was always tenuous. He never had the kind of clout that comes with the salaries that even middle-of-the-road head coaches have been getting in recent years. That should have happened when he was extended two years ago.

4) Maybe the Heat isn't as certain about D-Wade's return as it says.

5) Couldn't this guy find a run somewhere on South Beach (video of the not-teenage phenom here)?

6) So, while BP, in the middle of the worst global economic freefall since the Great Depression, was raking in $14 billion in profits last year, there was no one in the company saying 'maybe we should think about what we're going to do if one of our rigs blows up, or is subject to a terrorist attack, or gets knocked over by a tsunami. 'Cause, you know, that never could happen. We're too smart to be surprised by acts of man or God. Our technology is too advanced http://www.oilrigdisasters.co.uk/ to have a disaster recovery plan in place. No one could possibly imagine such a thing happening today. Why would we possibly think a rig could explode ?

7) Sad to hear that the Pistons have parted ways with one of the longest-tenured, and best, PR guys in the league, Matt Dobek, who was very close to the late Chuck Daly and handled things for the family last year after the coach's death. Hope everything turns out okay for Matt and for the Pistons.

Tweet of the Week

What's good tweets!!So everybody is talking bout Lebron today..I'm telling u NOW that he's going to drag this out.He's not signing til AuGust.
-- Suns forward Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) -- our first repeat Tweeter of the year, I think -- Friday, 4:45 p.m., making a prediction that will not sit well with NBA reporters if it comes to pass.

They Said It

"I made it easy. I told her, 'you better root for the one you go home with.' "
-- Cavaliers guard Anthony Parker, taking his sister Candace, the star forward of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks, off the hook of having to decide who to cheer for in the Cleveland-Boston series -- her older brother, or her husband, Sheldon Williams, the Celtics' reserve forward.

"Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can't get youth back."
-- Kevin Garnett, when asked if he understood what LeBron James is about to go through in free agency, having had to make a similar decision while in Minnesota. Garnett added that if he had it to do over again he would have forced a trade from Minnesota much sooner than he did, 13 years into his NBA career. Ouch.

"The best coach in the league, Gregg Popovich, didn't have a problem with it last week."
-- Steve Nash, firing back at Phil Jackson after Jackson said that Nash gets away with carrying the ball when he dribbles up court. Classic.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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